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"The Three Laws of Robotics" ... this is where it all started

  • Jun 28, 2010
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A thousand years ago, mankind began the process of leaving mother Earth and colonizing the galaxy. Fifty planets have been now been colonized by thinly spread populations of hardy pioneering spirits - rough and ready types willing to work in hostile environments with robots as help-mates and partners - and it is obvious that mankind has evolved down two diverging sociological paths. The Earthmen - those who chose to stay at home in tightly cramped almost global city hives under the pressure of explosive population growth, an incredibly strict socialist regime and diminishing available resources - have grown timid of the slightest exposure to outside light, weather and even "un-conditioned" air. Robots, seen as competing with humans for jobs, the only meager source of status in this highly regulated environment, are despised and feared. While diplomacy and trade are maintained between Earthmen and Spacers, relations are strained and mutual distrust bordering on hatred has become the norm.

When a Spacer is murdered by a visiting Earthman, the governments on both sides realize that the crime must be solved quickly and quietly to prevent a complete collapse of diplomatic relations and an explosion of tension into riots, chaos, open animosity, perhaps even a war! The Commissioner of the New York City police force orders Elijah Baley, an Earthman detective who doesn't like robots any more than the next guy, to check his emotions at the door and partner up with a Spacer robot, R Daneel Olivaw, to solve the crime.

"Caves of Steel"a classic novel from the pen of Isaac Asimov - one of the acknowledged giants of science fiction writing - can be enjoyed on so many different levels. On the surface, it's an exciting, tightly plotted and nicely conceived police procedural and standard mystery set in a fascinating futuristic setting with a completely unexpected ending twist. On a deeper level, it's a foreboding, grim, bleak look at the imagined social future of mankind unless population growth is brought under control and the problems of diminishing availability of food and energy resources are addressed and solved. Finally, "Caves of Steel" is one of the first of an intricate series of novels that explores Asimov's now famous "Three Laws of Robotics", the behaviour of robots with positronic brains indelibly programmed with these three laws and the potential interactions of these robots with predictably unpredictable humans.

A combination of the best of hard and soft science fiction from one of the very best science fiction writers who sadly is no longer with us! Highly recommended.

Paul Weiss

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Paul Weiss ()
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   A modern day dilettante with widely varied eclectic interests. A dabbler in muchbut grandmaster of none - wilderness camping in all four seasons, hiking, canoeing, world travel,philately, … more
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About this book


The Caves of Steel is a novel by Isaac Asimov. It is essentially a detective story, and illustrates an idea Asimov advocated, that science fiction is a flavor that can be applied to any literary genre, rather than a limited genre itself. Specifically, in the book Asimov's Mysteries, he claims that he wrote the novel in response to the claim by editor John W. Campbell that mystery and science fiction were incompatible genres.

Campbell had claimed that the science fiction writer could invent "facts" in his imaginary future that the reader would not know. Asimov countered that there were rules implicit in the art of writing mysteries, and that the clues would be in the plot, even if they were not obvious, or were deliberately obfuscated.

He went on to write several mysteries in both novel and short-story form, as well as more mainstream mysteries such as The Death Dealers and Murder at the ABA which had elements of science, but were not science fiction.

Caves of Steel was first published as a serial in Galaxy Magazine, October to December 1953. A Doubleday hardcover followed in 1954.

A television adaptation was made by the BBC and shown in 1964: only a few short excerpts still exist. In June 1989, the book was adapted by Bert Coules as a radio play for the BBC, with Ed Bishop as Elijah Baley and Sam Dastor as R. Daneel Olivaw.

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